Presented on Wednesday, July 29, 2020 online as part of the 2020 Park Church Summer Lecture Series
In a moment when systemic racism has recently gained heightened visibility in the U.S., this talk explores how Mark Twain grappled with the difficulties of thinking systemically, of comprehending political structures that exceed individual experience. In his anti-imperialist writings, Twain registers that the difficulty of grasping structures lies in the limitations of sight, the sense most often associated with knowledge in modern Europe and the United States. From around 1880 until his death in 1910, Twain explored various technological structures for enfolding deep temporal and spatial structures into visual experience. These uses of "spectacle," rooted in visual technologies that produce a false but powerful sense of immediacy, included a history board game, a history roadway game, and photography. Twain's experiments with seemingly anti-historical visual technologies provide important parallels and lessons for our own uses of digital technologies in coming to terms with the relations between police brutality against Black Americans today and the long transnational history of anti-Blackness.
Stephen Pasqualina is a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Nevada, Reno. His current book project, Mechanical Failure: Modernism, Technology, and the Mediation of History, examines the roll of speed and visual media technologies in the US modernist historical imaginary. Work related to this project has recently appeared in Modernism/modernity, J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, Public Books, and MarkTwainStudies.org.